It wasn’t a waltz, and it may have been undeserved, but Atlético Madrid held on for a 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday afternoon. Antoine Griezmann’s 74th minute strike — his 12th of the league season — made Jan Oblak’s stupendous string of saves stand up, and los rojiblancos jumped Real Madrid to return to second place for the time being.
Atlético’s first chance came early, in the second minute. Saúl took a long, looping cross onto his head, but the resultant header went over Stole Dimitrievski’s crossbar. Álvaro Morata had another chance around five minutes later — his header from an Antoine Griezmann free kick sailed straight into Dimitrievski’s chest.
The pace to the match — fast and loose — didn’t quite suit the mattress makers, who sought to give up the ball and pick their moments in order to take the game where they wanted (as Simeone is so fond of saying). Oblak’s first save of many came on 25 minutes, when Filipe Luís lost Adrián Embarba in buildup and allowed the midfielder time and space to shoot at Oblak inside the box. The Slovene got down to make a save that was more difficult than it looked.
Rayo countered well throughout the first half and LaLiga’s 18th-placed side outplayed Atlético for large portions of the opening 45 minutes. Raúl de Tomás was as good as advertised, often dropping deep to link midfield to attack and completing five dribbles to go with two key passes. Atleti’s passing team-wide was poor and inhibited any big chance creation from open play. As in many of their away performances this season, Atleti limped into the dressing room locked in a goalless game.
It took Atlético until the 55th minute to record a third shot as Rayo continued to lurk in the second half. Simeone made two changes on the hour as he brought on Thomas Lemar and handed Diego Costa his first minutes since Dec. 2, moments after a strange deflection allowed de Tomás to have a free shot at Oblak — the keeper saved easily.
Oblak was called into action once more on 67 minutes to paw away another de Tomás chance. The Real Madrid loanee — again unmarked — brought down a long ball but couldn’t quite get his foot on the ball squarely and only generated a corner.
On 74 minutes, with just their fourth shot, Atlético went ahead at last through a strange piece of play. Abdoulaye Ba failed to deal properly with a Filipe Luís cross and could not clear it. Morata brought down the ball and laid off Griezmann, whose half-volley from close range deflected off a defender’s arm and floated past Dimitrievski.
The hosts nearly equalized minutes later through Bebé, but his shot from distance flew a few inches wide. Ba had a stoppage time header saved by a leaping Oblak before the whistle blew and Atlético leapt back into second place.
RAY XI: Dimitrievski; Gálvez (Álvaro 76’), Ba, Amat; Mario, Comesaña, Tito, Moreno; Trejo (Bebé 57’), Embarba (Pozo 57’); Raúl de Tomás.
ATM XI: Oblak, Arias, Giménez, Godín, Filipe Luís; Rodri (Savić 75’), Saúl, Correa (Lemar 60’), Vitolo (Costa 60’); Griezmann, Morata.